Dormition Day: Greek Holiday Edition


 “Chronia Polla!”

Or as we would say, “Many Years!”

Name-Days are extremely important in Greek Orthodox religion; more so over Birthdays. Every Greek celebrates their Name-Day, which is a specific day addressed to someone who shares the same name as a Saint.

Every Saint is celebrated, but none as gloriously as the Virgin Mother Mary.

It is on August 15th where all of Greece celebrates Mother Marys Name-Day, and anyone who bears the name Maria, Despina and Panagiotis (and their derivatives: Mary, Peggy, etc.). Anyone with these names are wished “Chronia Polla!” – which is like wishing someone a Happy Birthday.

For assumption day

This specific name-day is known as the Dormition of Theotokos (aka the Virgin Mother Mary) and is one of the most important holidays in Greece – coming up third right behind Easter and Christmas. I list Easter first because it’s the most important holiday in the Greek Orthodox Church – even more important than Christmas.

The Dormition of Mother Mary is also celebrated in the Catholic Church and is known as Assumption Day (meaning the day the Virgin Mother Mary “fell asleep” and God “assumed” her physical body into Heaven).

I have to say, I’m very blessed to have not only witnessed my surroundings and sightings of this two-week holiday in Greece, but also because I was included in this spectacular celebration!

It starts on August 1st. The Greeks fast (no meat, dairy, fish, oil or wine – except on Saturday and Sunday) for two weeks preceding Dormition Day. August 6th is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord (you are allowed to eat fish on this day); however, I believe we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration one day prior (Friday, August 5th) – or at least that’s what I assume – because Dan, myself and our neighbors were invited to our landlords house (who live next door to us) to feast on delicious (all vegetarian) homemade food; including freshly baked bread blessed by the Orthodox Priest.

Holiday family gathering
Greek family gathering – Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

And it was amazing!

greek sweets
Greek Halva and other sweets
homemade raki
traditional Greek candy and cookies
traditional Greek candy and cookies

I of course brought a side dish of fruit salad to contribute to the table, and they really enjoyed it.

family gathering

The following weekend, Dan and I were invited again to eat and celebrate the night before Dormition Day. We brought two bottles of wine over (one Californian and one Italian) and we were greeted with smiles and kisses on both cheeks from the whole family.

joining a Greek family holiday

We feasted on roast lamb, pork & chicken, noodles & rice, tzatziki, cakes & pies, and Wine & Raki – all of it was delicious homemade Greek cuisine.

delicious Greek food

delicious Greek food

I was shown where they cooked the meat in a traditional Greek oven (unfortunately I arrived too late and missed them cooking, but the oven was still hot and apparently stays hot for several days!) and was also shown where they picked the fresh herbs they used to cook with.

Greek Oven
traditional stone Greek oven
twigs for fire
twigs for fire
fresh rosemary
a whole lotta fresh rosemary

Once the food and raki settled in, everyone started dancing! I pretty much dance any chance I can get. Even when I was little, I would dance at every wedding I attended. So I obviously jumped right in, but apparently have two left feet! We danced the whole night: which included traditional Greek dances as well as traditional Cretan dances.

Traditional Greek Dancing
Traditional Greek Dancing

Greek/Cretan dancing can tie your feet into knots… especially after a little Raki!

Traditional Greek Dancing
Traditional Greek Dancing

After dinner and dancing, our new friends asked us to join them for some drinks in Old Town Chania. Unfortunately Dan had to work the next day (Monday), but said he didn’t mind if I went… so I did!

I’ll start by saying you usually don’t go out until 12 p.m. in Greece… and the bars close once the sun rises. I’ll end with saying… you guessed it… a hangover. Blah!

yamas! (cheers!)

The next day was Dormition Day. Since it was Monday, Dan was unable to join because he had to work.

So I attended alone. Hanging out with Greek-speaking people who I literally just met. On one of their biggest holidays.

And it was pretty damn awesome.

I baked a delicious side dish (non-Greek) Coconut Saffron Rice. I was betting against all odds for this flavorful and aromatic rice dish, as coconut is not a typical flavor the Greeks are used to eating. However, I wanted to provide an American dish for them to try out – actually it’s more Asian/Persian than anything.

coconut saffron rice
coconut saffron rice

Once I arrived inside their home, my breath was literally taken away. No, there wasn’t anything unusual. It was your typical folding tables covered with white linen. It was the usual plates and glasses set on the table. It was the T.V. that was playing traditional Greek holiday music. And it was the very familiar plates of food and salad bowls that were set atop the connected tables. Not to mention my CorningWare casserole dish (with the pot holder my grandma made me) sitting among everything else.

on the table

What took my breath away was the fact that it was all so eerily familiar – just like every Christmas, Thanksgiving, Passover and Easter I’ve celebrated ever since I could remember.

Dormition day feast

I seriously had no idea what to expect… but being so far away from anything American just led my mind to wander off into the abyss. I had no intention of seeing something so familiar. I know, I guess it’s not really that surreal… I just figured being halfway across the world would mean a completely different way of life and celebrating. But it’s pretty much the same. Minus the traditional dancing and sliced feta cheese on the table!

Lamb and Pork on the grill
Lamb and Pork on the grill

The food was absolutely delicious. The cakes and pies were perfectly made. The family was so welcoming, kind and generous. And (most) of the family really liked my rice dish – Score!

homemade Greek sweets
homemade Greek sweets
fresh fruit
fresh fruit and grapes from the garden
Andreas pouring Raki
Andreas pouring homemade Raki
Traditional Greek Dancing
Traditional Greek Dancing

We danced for several hours as the raki kept flowing until all the men passed out on the couch and all the women were putting the dishes away. I seriously couldn’t have asked for a better day.

Greek Dancing on Dormition Day YouTube play
Traditional Greek Dancing on Dormition Day, August 15 YouTube play

I will never forget these celebrations and the lovely family that included me. Like I said before, I am extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to join them and (as they stated) to be considered family.

Want to learn more about the Island of Crete and Greek culture? Check out Vibrant Culture: Getting to know the Cretans!